Cynthia Longfield

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Cynthia Longfield

Cynthia Longfield (16 August 1896 – 27 June 1991) was an expert on the dragonfly and an explorer.[1][2] She was called "Madame Dragonfly" for her extensive work.[3][1] She was passionately fond of dragonflies and her dominant area of interest was natural history.[4] She travelled extensively and published The Dragonflies of the British Isles in 1937. She worked as a research associate at the Natural History Museum, London.[1][3] Longfield was the expert on the dragonflies at the museum, researching particularly African species.

Early life[edit]

Cynthia Evelyn Longfield was born on August 16, on Pont Street, Belgravia, London. She was the youngest of daughter of Montifort and Alice Longfield, of Castle Mary, Cloyne, Co. Cork. She had two sisters. Alice Longfield grew up near to Oxford, and was the daughter of a scientist. Alice died in 1945.[5] The family home at Castle Mary was burned down in 1920 by rebels, and Park House was rebuilt on the grounds.[5]


She joined the Army Service Corps during WWI, later moving to an aircraft factory on Fullham Road. She visited South America between December 1921 and March 1922. She traveled to the Andes and Lake Titicaca. In 1923 she traveled to Egypt, where she caught a scorpion at the tomb of Ramases IX.[6] In the same year answered an advertisement to join Evelyn Cheesman of London Zoo on a research trip to the Pacific, specifically the Galapagos Islands. They sailed aboard the St George, which left Dartmouth on April 9, 1924. She collected coleoptera and lepidoptera as an assistant to an entomologist, Cyril Collenette.[7] The pair used machetes to hack through the undergrowth of the Amazon jungle in order to collect specimens for the Natural History Museum of London. She joined the Entomological Society of London in 1925, and later the same year joined the Royal Geographical Society.[5] She was the first woman member of the Entomological Society.[5] In 1926 she joined the London Natural History Society. She was elected president of the society for 1932 and 1933.[7] On March 28, 1938 she joined the Auxiliary Fire Service, and ensured that a turntable ladder was used upon the bombing of the department in April 1941, during WWII. Cyril Collenette stated that her actions in relation to this likely saved the Museum from destruction.[7]

Longfield was a voluntary cataloguer at the Natural History Museum and was put in charge of work on dragonflies. She joined a six month expedition to Matto Grosso, Brazil in 1927, and returned with samples of 38 of species of dragonfly. Three of these species were previously unidentified.[6] The species Corphaeschna longfieldae is named in her honour. By 1937, Longfield had become an international authority on the subject of dragonflies and published a book entitled "The Dragonflies of the British Isles". The book quickly sold out, and earned her the name "Madame Dragonfly". She was appointed an honorary associated of the Natural History Museum in 1948.[7]

In 1979 she donated dragonfly and damselfly specimens to the Royal Irish Academy, as well as her written records and more than 500 natural history books.[8] In 1983 she was elected the first Honorary Member of the British Dragonfly Society.[7] An exhibition entitled The Longfield exhibition was opened in the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street in 2006.[2]


Before her retirement from the Natural History Museum, Longfield purchased an apartment in Kensington, London, where she resided until her eventual retirement at age 60. In 1957, she returned to Castle Mary, the family estate, in Cloyne, County Cork where she lived until her death. She died aged 96 on 27 June 1991 and was buried in St. Coleman's Church of Ireland Cathedral, close to her home in Cloyne.


  • 1914. Royal Army Service Corps, driver (1914–1916)[9]
  • 1916. Aeroplane factory worker (1916–1918)[9]
  • 1924. St. George Expedition, Assistant Entomologist (unpaid)(1924–1925)[9]
  • 1936. Studies on African Odonata, with synonymy, and descriptions of new species and subspecies. Trans. R. ent. Soc. London 85(20): 467–498.
  • (1936) Contribution à l'étude de la faune du Mozambique. Voyage de M.P. Lesne (1928–1929). 23e note – Odonata. Memórias e Estudos do Museu Zoológico da Universidade de Coimbra, 89: 1–2 . Insecta. C. Longfield.
  • (1945) – The Odonata of South Angola. Arquivos do Museu Bocage, 16, Lisboa.
  • (1955) – The Odonata of N. Angola. Publicações Culturais, Companhia de Diamantes de Angola (Diamang), Lisboa, 27: 11–63. Biologia. Entomologia. Angola.
  • (1959) – The Odonata of N. Angola. Publicações Culturais, Companhia de Diamantes de Angola (Diamang), Lisboa, 45: 11–42. Entomologia. Angola.
  • (1960) Dragonflies Corbet, P.S., Longfield, C.N. and Moore, N.W. New Naturalist No 41, Collins, London.


  1. ^ a b c "Longfield, Cynthia (1896–1991)". Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages. 1 January 2007. ISBN 978-1414418612. Retrieved 4 June 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ a b "The life of Madam Dragonfly". Irish times. 19 August 2006. Retrieved 4 June 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b Staff. "Cynthia Longfield". The New Naturalists Online. Archived from the original on 2012-04-22. Retrieved 2012-10-19. 
  4. ^ Hayter-Hames, Jane (1991). Madam Dragonfly : the life and times of Cynthia Longfield. Edinburgh [u.a.]: Pentland Press. ISBN 187279520X. 
  5. ^ a b c d Haines, Catharine M. C. International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950. pp. 180–181. 
  6. ^ a b "Travels to Egypt". Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Life information". Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  8. ^ "Collection donations". Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c Ogilvie, Marilyn; editors, Joy Harvey (2000). The biographical dictionary of women in science : pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century. New York: Routledge. p. 801. ISBN 041592040X. 

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